Tuesday, October 10, 2017

One Hundted an Forty Five

Mike was in a coma for weeks, and wasn’t expected to live; but now he’s regained consciousness. His father asked me to come back and work part time until he recovers.

I've no intention of coming back full time, even though I need money desperately. I can no longer find satisfaction in doing well work that shouldn't be done.

Most of the people I worked with eight years ago have left the company. The ones who remember me tell the new hires I’m a genius who’ll save the company, but I can see why they’re skeptical. They installed a different system after I retired, and I’m having difficulty understanding it. I was sure this proved I was becoming senile; but after studying their new system, I realized I’m having difficulty understanding it because they don’t understand it themselves, and explained it to me badly.

People have always tried to explain to me what they didn’t understand themselves.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

One Hundred and Forty Four

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. It’s irrational to trust in someone or something when all the evidence we have suggests we shouldn’t; but we’re limited beings, and can never have enough evidence to know anything with certainty. At some point we must decide we know enough to act, and hope that what we don’t know doesn’t contradict all we do know.

People used to have faith in religion because it was rational. Not only did it give order and meaning to their lives, but all the evidence they had supported it. When scientists found evidence that seemed to contradict religion, priests redefined faith as irrational - a belief in something or someone (a god) when all the (scientific) evidence suggests we shouldn’t - and claimed irrational faith was superior to reason.
  
People who lost faith in gods used to make science their new religion. Their faith in science was irrational because they didn’t understand it any more than they understood the teachings of their religious prophets; but they had faith that if they did understand it, science would give them that assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, which religion failed to do. They trusted that scientists knew the truth as nvely as they once trusted priests. But instead of making our lives better, scientists brought us to the brink of destruction.

But most people never lost faith in gods. They lost faith in priests, and their ability to interpret god’s words as written in the bible. When they learned to read the bible for themselves, people didn’t agree with the priests’ interpretations. Now people for whom science is a religion have lost their faith in scientists, but not in science, so they call themselves creation scientists. They attempt to combine science and religion, which would be laudable if they understood that they’re different methods of searching for truth; but they assume both are dogmas.     

Friday, October 6, 2017

One Hundred and Forty Three

I’m reading Clive Ponting’s A Green History of the World. He’s no prose stylist, but he’s mastered the material and presents it well. 

It’s been accepted for some time that the Neolithic Revolution was the major event in our social history, but most historians no longer describe it as a fortunate event. More and more agree with Jared Diamond that it was a major mistake. Ponting compares the lives of hunter/gatherers with those of agriculturalists, and it’s clear hunter/gatherers were better off. Finally historians are beginning to accept what I knew when I was twelve, from reading Engels’ Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.

All animals modify their environment, but not to the extent we do. The changes we make are so great that we can’t undo them even when we want to. We burned down the forests and used the land for monocrop agriculture (and still do); we hunted animals to extinction (and still do). Now we realize these were mistakes, but it's too late. We can't restore the original ecosystem.

I knew this before reading Ponting’s book, but it helped me answer the question I always ask about our ancestors: why did they believe in gods?

We call ourselves homo sapiens, but we're profoundly ignorant. We don’t know our own limits, therefore we don’t know ourselves.

We do everything to a violent extreme because we imagine everything we do is good. When the world doesn’t respond to the things we do to it in the way we expect it to, we imagine it's a being like us, only more powerful, that's angry at us for injuring this world which is its body. 

All the gods in our earliest myths are angry; but we tamed them as slaves tame their masters, by flattering them. We pretended we loved them, and eventually came to believe we did. Even worse, we believed our gods loved us in return. 

Most people now define religion as faith in a god. They lost their faith in gods, and made science their religion, because they imagined science would give them back the unlimited, godlike power they imagine they once had, something gods promised but never did. When science didn’t make them godlike, either, people put their faith in the nation. We're all fascists now. I define religion as the awareness that we have limits, are parts of something greater than ourselves - not faith in an immortal master who rewards obedient slaves by making them immortal.                   

Saturday, September 30, 2017

One hundred and Forty Two

Last night I dreamed one of my co-workers invited me to attend the wedding of his sister.

The wedding was held in his house, which was splendid. Every guest was young and beautiful, and beautifully dressed. I was still young myself in this dream, and wearing my best suit. Several of the bridesmaids flirted with me at the reception, as young women did when I was young. One of them was my friend’s other sister, and he joked that our wedding would be next.

I left the reception and wandered through the rest of the house. All the other rooms were just as splendid, as though they, too, had been prepared to receive guests.

I wandered from room to room, and eventually found myself in rooms that were obviously not part of a private house – auditoriums, conference rooms and lecture halls - all of them empty but just as splendid and waiting to receive people. But not me. This was a gated community whose residents all knew each other, married each other, and lived in houses connected to each other through passageways unknown to outsiders.

I realized I was trespassing, and should leave. The land outside was barren and desolate, but I opened the gate and stepped outside.

I saw a cat lying at my feet. It was whimpering in pain. Then I saw a bird of prey on its back, its gray feathers almost hidden in the cat’s thick gray fur. The bird’s claws were sunk into the cat’s body, and it was pecking at the cat like Prometheus' eagle.

I crouched down and carefully pried the bird’s claws, one by one, from the cat's body. The bird flew away, and the cat crawled away to lick its wounds.

As I watched them leave, someone struck me from behind and knocked me out. When I woke, a man was standing over me.

He was a mulatto, lightskinned enough to be mistaken for a latino by someone not familiar with mulattoes, but his racial ancestry was obvious from his dreadlocks. He, too, was wearing what was obviously his best suit. His fingernails were long and filed to points, like claws.

He demanded my wallet, and I gave it to him. He got angry when he found it was empty, and told me to take off my clothes. At least they were worth something.

I begged him not to leave me naked. He sank his long nails into me, as the bird had sunk its claws into the cat, and I passed out from the pain.

I woke up bloody and disheveled. I got up, staggered to the gate and banged on it. People came out of the house, but when they saw my condition they refused to let me in.

I watch my dreams as a spectator, even when I’m in them. The me in this dream was afraid the mulatto was going to kill me, but the me watching the dream found it funny.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

One Hundred and Forty One

I'm as alone as Alexander Selkirk. 

Defoe is said to have invented Friday in order to show that the civilized Englishman invariably becomes master of any savage he meets, whatever the circumstances. That may have become the moral of Defoe’s story as he wrote it, but I think he began with Selkirk’s story, and invented Friday because he couldn’t imagine such loneliness.

“L'enfer, c'est les autres”, said Sartre. Not because he was a misanthrope, but because however well we come to know other people, they remain strangers. A stranger could become our friend, but we fear s/he’ll become our enemy because our society teaches us we're all competitors.

“There is no such thing as society”, said Baroness Thatcher. “There are only individuals”. Wise words from a fool. But we’re all fools.

Fools aren’t fools because they never say anything wise. They’re fools because they don’t know what they’re saying, but merely repeat what they hear.

“Never say more than you know”, said Wittgenstein. But if we didn’t say more than we know, most of us would never say anything. 

We all know more than we think we do, or admit we do. Education means forgetting what all children know, because it's too terrible to live with, and pretending to believe the comforting lies adults pretend to believe.

We all know life is terrible for most people most of the time, but we pretend the occasional moment of joy makes the years of pain worth living. Life may be worth living for some, but not for most of us. Perhaps not for any of us. Even the most fortunate must be troubled by the knowledge that their happiness is made possible by the misery of others. But even if they feel no pity for others, the fortunate must fear that their victims will take revenge on them.

What we used to call society, before the baroness corrected us, is therefore built on sadomasochism. The fortunate hurt the unfortunate to confirm that however terrible the things they do, their victims can’t or won’t take revenge on them. 

Slaves don’t rebel against their masters unless and until they delude themselves into believing they'd make better masters. But so few of us are able to master ourselves that only fools imagine they could master others.

We pretend to be masters or slaves because we've all done terrible things. We'd rather be masters, guiltless because above the law; but most of us are content to be slaves, guiltless because we merely carry out our masters’ orders.

We invented gods who could forgive us for committing crimes too terrible for us to forgive ourselves. Now we know too much to believe, or suspend our disbelief, in gods, but not enough to forgive ourselves; so we punish ourselves.       

Friday, September 8, 2017

One Hundred and Forty

After she died, I tried to kill myself, and failed; so I took all the books off the shelves and cleaned them, for something to do. But I can do nothing now. I never put them back on the shelves. They’re still sitting on the floor in piles.

Once in a while I look for a book; but usually I can’t find what I’m looking for, so I pick up the first book I find and read it. Last month it was Wallerstein’s. After I finished it, I picked up Stuart & Marie Hall’s A Brief History of Science. Brief it is, but well written, by literate writers for literate readers, in a style as obsolete as Chaucer’s Middle English.  

Nothing is more obsolete than a book about the progress of human knowledge. Every age of reason and enlightenment has been a renaissance, a rediscovery of ancient knowledge lost. We keep losing our way, so for us progress always means going back to the beginning. And we always lose more than we regain.
 
I finished the Hall’s book last night. This morning I woke, as I often do, with a phrase echoing in my head. It was We are dancing on the edge of a volcano

Popular historians invariably use this phrase when writing about the Weimar Republic, but it’s older than Weimar. Ravel wrote it on the score of La Valse before the Great War, and he was quoting Salvandy, who used it about the July monarchy. Historians started using it about the USA a few years ago, but no longer. The parallels between Trump’s USA and Hitler’s Germany are too close. They now insist Trump is a unique phenomenon without precedent.

Peter Campbell wrote with contempt about the people who danced on the edge of the volcano between the world wars, but we've always lived on the edge of the volcano. What else should we do but dance while we can?

There may be trouble ahead
But while there's music and moonlight and love and romance
Let's face the music and dance

Dancing in the dark
‘Til the tune ends
We're dancing in the dark
And it soon ends
We’re waltzing in the wonder of why we’re here
Time hurries by, we’re here
Then we’re gone

Friday, September 1, 2017

One Hundred and Thirty Nine

Why am I still alive?

Leonard said he knows why he’s still alive.

When Cindy killed herself, Leonard said he was the only one who knew why.

Her daughter was grown and married, so Cindy’s work was done. She had no reason to stay alive.

Leonard said he wants to meet his Maker, but stays alive because his daughter needs him. Jennifer cannot or will not take care of herself.  

I used to tell myself I stay alive because I love the human race, and want to do what I can to help it. But I can do nothing. The human race is destroying itself because it doesn't love itself as I do. Now I stay alive because I’m already dead in the only way that matters.